"You can tell a good deal from people's bedrooms -- if you know what to look for." So proclaims Delia, one of the odd crew of character in Alan Ayckbourn's "Bedroom Farce," which aims to prove the justice of her words while inspiring a torrent of laughter.

The three bedrooms in "Bedroom Farce" belong to Ernest and Delia, a strait-laced older couple with a secret yearning for sardines-on-toast in bed; Malcolm and Kate, two irrepressible pranksters given to hiding each other's shoes under the bedcovers; and Nick and Jan, whose lives revolve around his back trouble and her old boyfriends. Still another couple, the moody Trevor and the neurotic Susannah, don't have a bedroom of their own -- not on stage, that is -- so they keep paying unexpected visits to other's bedrooms.

You wouldn't call any of Ayckbourn's people complicated, and his story hovers constantly on the brink of unmitigated idiocy. Still, in the right hands, "Bedroom Farce" can make a jolly evening of theatre. It is in the right hands at Olney, where a three-week run began Tuesday night.

It can't be easy to cast a play with eight characters of almost equal importance (all British, too), but director James D. Waring has done this part of his job supremely well. Ruby Holbrook has just the right touch of low-keyed daftness as Delia, and it is a comic wonder to watch this Victorian lady's chagrined delight when her daughter-in-law chooses her for a sexual counselor. Jill P. Rose as Kate (a role she played in the national touring company) and Michael Rothhaar as Malcolm are not only brilliant individually, but they make the marriage of these two characters a nutty, charming whole. And the other actors -- including John Neville-Andrews and Richard Bauer of the Folger Theatre Group and Arena Stage -- provide many little cresendos of inspired farce.

As of Wednesday, there were times when this production of Ayckbourn's 1975 play hadn't quite found its comic rhythm, but it surely will. Truly satisfying comedy -- even with a text as frivolous as "Bedroom Farce" -- happens when actors put characters first and laughs second. Except for some gratuitous slapstick and unmotivated weirdness that director Waring should have put a stop to, that's exactly the approach the Olney company has taken here. They have already searched out their characters. Now, with an audience to rely on, they are searching out the laughs. By all rights, the audiences should be large and the laughs loud and frequent. CAPTION:

Picture, John Neville-Andrews and Jill P. Rose in "Bedroom Farce"